Salih Booker, Executive Director of the Geneva-based Centre on Housing Rights and Evictions (COHRE), said “On this International Women’s Day, we would do well to remember that women today are bearing the brunt of the world’s current economic crisis, which is having a dire impact on the achievement of the human right to adequate housing all over the world. While the global media offers images of Western bankers and businessmen as the face of this crisis, we in the human rights community know that the real face of the crisis is not to be found on Wall Street. In reality, the global economic crisis is disproportionately impacting those who already have the least, and it is women who today are the overwhelming majority of the world’s poor.”
Mayra Gómez, Coordinator of the COHRE Women and Housing Rights Programme, said “Women’s housing rights are not peripheral issues – they are central to improving the lives of women and girls throughout the world. Housing rights violations are not gender neutral and they impact women in gender specific ways. Beyond basic shelter, for many women housing is a place of employment and social interaction, and a place to care for children. For women in particular, housing rights are intimately connected to their security, health, and wellbeing.”
In Cambodia, COHRE’s recent fact-finding on women and forced eviction, for example, highlights these connections. Recent forced evictions in Cambodia have rendered hundreds of women homeless, and currently it is estimated that more than 150,000 Cambodian live under threat of forced eviction, including some 70,000 in Phnom Penh.
First-hand testimony collected by COHRE in September 2008 demonstrates the devastating effects of forced eviction on women. One 21-year old woman forcibly evicted from her home in Cambodia told COHRE, “Before [we were forcibly evicted], [my husband and I] both used to earn money. We both had jobs at factory nearby. Through we were living at rented place; we were able to make our ends meet. Here I cannot go for work as we are very far away from the city. My husband goes to work but he cannot earn sufficient money for my family. He has become very violent towards me. I did not just lose my house in the eviction but I have lost my life, my peace and everything.”
Gómez noted that COHRE’s research in Argentina, Brazil, Cambodia, Ghana, India, Israel and Palestine, Kenya, the Philippines, Sri Lanka, and the United States has yielded similar findings on the close connections between the status of women’s housing rights and women’s security.
In Kenya, COHRE’s research has showed that disinheritance is a major problem exacerbating women’s poverty and pushing them into the slums. Most disinherited women had land, household items, goats and cows that constituted their household economic resources, only to have it all taken from them by their in-laws and other relatives. Women say this action is condoned by the cultural belief that women cannot own property. Custom dictates that immovable and movable property such as land, houses, livestock and other necessities are best controlled by a male, despite the fact that women do most of the homecare and farming.
In Brazil, women living in the favelas survive in poor and overcrowded housing conditions, characterized too often by unhygienic surroundings, including lack of toilets and appropriate sanitation. Due to the fact that women are the ones that spend more time in the house, taking care of domestic chores and their children, inadequate housing conditions make their daily life harder. In addition, women living in the favelas have told COHRE that gender-based violence, including domestic violence is one of the major issues affecting their lives.
In Sri Lanka, women are disadvantaged by the application of the ‘head of the household’ standard, which — in the aftermath of the tsunami – resulted in women being disentitled to their homes and property as a consequence of the notion that the male ‘head of the household’ ought to be authorised to sign official documentation.
Booker said “Under international human rights standards, governments around the world are obligated to ensure that women’s housing rights are respected, protected and fulfilled. In order to do this, governments must strengthen national legal protections for women’s housing rights, and do so on the basis of non-discrimination and equality, allowing women to participate meaningfully in the process. Recognising the links that exist between women’s housing rights and women’s security is key to improving the lives of women all around the world.”
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